Hey, Yoga Teachers: Drop The Spiritual Stuff
I became a better teacher and person once I dropped the spiritual stuff.
My first year of yoga teaching brought up so much anxiety. I was grasping to appear yogic, wise, sensitive, and spiritual all the time. While I was sincere and developed in many ways, I wasn’t those things every moment of the day, and I felt tremendous pressure to live up to my perceived standards of a yoga teacher.
This left me confused about how to interact with students, what to share online, and how to socialize. The parts of myself which were unyoga-like were shut down and stored away. This segregation of self caused pain in my psyche and kept my students from having a full human experience in class.
Here are three things I've learned to do differently:
1. I relate to my students as peers.
This doesn’t mean that I display a lack of professionalism, it means I'm relaxed enough to realize we're all on the same level. Human.
Often, I observe teachers unconsciously trying to overpower the students. Maybe teachers stand up a bit taller, lengthen their spine longer, smile bigger as if to say here I am, more present and happy than you. This focus on strenuous body positioning detracts from what should be moments of true connection, such as small talk or tea with students. This mentality is also apparent in distancing language patterns with unnatural pronouns and vocabulary are chosen. Consider the difference between One has to be mindful of.... versus I have to be mindful of ... It’s a very different feeling and experience.
Settle into yourself and open to true connection.
2. I share personal experiences.
You are so much more that your yoga practice! I’ve found that the best lessons have grown out of my own journey and experiences which don’t fit into the yoga box. It could be my interest in women’s rights, my addiction to nerdy academic talks, or even opening up about a struggle of mine. This is not to say that I use the classroom as a personal therapy session. It’s rather the art of deriving teachable moments from everyday experiences in a real context so we all can learn more.
3. I'm open about my shortcomings.
People need to hear about your humanness so they can know your state is achievable for them. Many people walk into class and think all you do is yoga, that you would never drink alcohol, eat meat, swear, or get angry. They need to know these things about you so they can stop judging themselves so harshly. Yoga is a way of coping with life, not a spaceship to the land of perfection.
Consider that every time you personify an unrealistic view of yourself, you are robbing them of reality and perpetuating their self-judgment, not to mention your own.
One of the things I’ve gained from these approaches is the freedom to be me in my life and in my profession. I’ve also acquired great friendships, a healthier sense of self and more confidence.
If you relate to this message and in turn, try these aspects out in class, please come back and post your experience in the comments so we all can learn from each other’s journey.